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Minsk’s Church of Saint Roch: interesting facts

Did you know that there is an ”invisible” church in Minsk? It is Church of Holy Trinity, or Church of Saint Roch, situated at 44a Independence Avenue. Today, the sacred place is hidden in the courtyard of the Palace of Arts, located on Kozlova Street, and the metropolitan newspaper editorial office, located on Independence Avenue.

In the XVIII century, there was a territory called Zolotaya Gorka, which streched  up to the modern Philharmonic and the military cemetery. Earlier, there was a big Catholic cemetery, where a traditional small wooden chapel of Saint Roch was established in 1796. In 1832, it became a parish church.

The Catholic parish of the Holy Trinity in Minsk was founded in the XIV century by Władysław II Jagiełło. It is the oldest Roman Catholic community in the city. Thanks to the kings’s donations, a wooden church was built on the Trinity Hill, but it burnt down in 1409, along with a church built after the first one (after the 1809 fire).

By the middle of the XIX century, a new Roman Catholic church was to be built to replace the Church of the Holy Trinity. Bishop Adam Wojtkiewicz managed to get permission to build a stone church from 1861 to 1864. A terrible plague epidemic reigned in the city at that time, and the faithful pinned their hopes on the new temple.

Citizens of various denominations donated moneny for the construction of the new church and asked Saint Roch for help. He was a famous French defender from epidemics, human and animal diseases.

Denis Philipchik, tour guide:
A lot of people died at those times. One Minsk resident dreamt that a sculpture of Saint Roch appeared in front of him. He felt that he had to look for something.  Soon, on the ruins of an abandoned monastery, a statue of Saint Roch was found, and it was moved to the temple. There appeared one of the places where Saint Roch was worshiped. Every year, on August 16, the Catholic Church commemorates him. He is the patron saint of travelers, doctors, and those who help other people.

The church was built very quickly. November 1, 1864, the first mass was held there. The church was built in the neo-Gothic style, popular at that time. The church of Saint Roch could be seen from far away.

The interior of the church was adored by many local historians. The bells were the sign for the faithful to pray. In the right altar of the temple, there was a statue of Saint Roch, transferred from the old chapel. An icon of the Mother of God with the baby was next to it. Not far from the church, a forester house, a hospice, and a wood yard were located.

With the course of time, the interior changed, but unique architecture with bright gothic features was saved. The two-storeyed tower with a tent completes the main facade. The facades are dissected with three-stage buttresses, which give the temple scope and grandeur. The central nave and apse are covered with barrel vaults. The walls are decorated with pilasters and cornices. There is a feeling that every part of the church reaches out to the sky.

It was the temple where extra service in Russian was introduced in Minsk for the first time. In 1872, an organist school was opened at the temple, where musicians were trained to conduct divine services in Russian.

Denis Philipchik, tour guide:
But already at the beginning of the XX century, the number of people attending public worship at this temple exceeded 7,000 people. There was very little room for the faithful in the building. In 1910, a new design for the temple was developed. It was to be built in the neo-Gothic style, with two towers. It was to become larger in size. But the troubled XX century began with WWI. This plan failed. But we have a very significant architectural monument today. The Corpus Christi procession starts every year from this very temple.

With the advent of the Soviet regime in 1922, all the valuables and utensils were requisitioned from the church. In the 1930s, it was closed and the miraculous statue of Saint Roch disappeared. In June 1941, the church was badly damaged in a battle. Divine services were resumed not for long during the Nazi occupation.

Immediately after the war, the building was converted into a library warehouse. After the war, the cemetery was liquidated, and new houses were built around it. Thus, the church found itself squeezed between other buildings.

Denis Philipchik, tour guide:
Today, only a few tombs remind us of the fact that this is indeed a holy place from the point of view of every Christian who comes to this temple. And today, you can read the inscription on these tombstones. They indicate that ordinary Minsk residents and the elite of that time were buried here.

After the restoration in 1983, the building was placed under protection and rebuilt into the Belarusian State Philharmonic Hall. There appeared bright stained-glass windows, which filled the interior of the temple with warmth.

In 1986, one of the best organs in Belarus was established in the apse. The temple became the center of the revival of Belarusian church music. Here, the festival Zolotogorskaya Lira is held and concerts and Koliada evenings organized. They involve both Belarusian groups and performers and foreign organists.

Yury Sanko, superior of the Minsk parish of Saint Roch:
We have three choirs in the parish: children, youth, and adult. Famous organists work with us, too. A young composer Viktor Kisten is one of them. Why is our church distinctive? Because the organ is in the altar part of the temple. Only in Yalta can we find a church where the organ is in the altar area. It shouldn’t be placed there because of the altar should be in the altar area, where the body of Christ is. Everyone who comes to the temple should see the altar, not the organ. Unfortunately, we cannot move the organ because of its size.

Since May 1991, Church of Holy Trinity has been holding divine services on the days when no concerts are planned. In 2006, a chamber music hall was closed, and the building was returned to the Roman Catholic parish of the Holy Trinity. At the same time, the interior was decorated with 14 bas-reliefs, which illustrate Christ's final journey to Golgotha. They are made by a Belarusian sculptor Valerian Yanushkevich.

Cultural and educational life of the church began to develop intensively. A parish school and a library were opened. However, the role of the vaults in the old days was quite different.

Denis Philipchik, tour guide:
The purpose of the vaults was to bury people, sponsors of the temple, or people, famous for their righteous life. Niches have remained since those times. As a rule, ordinary people were main investors, but they couldn’t donate large sums of money, which is why the nobility used to help with the construction.

Yuri Sanko, superior of the Minsk parish of Saint Roch:
In 2015, we managed to find funds. Also, thanks to the efforts of the faithful, we replaced the roof and the rafter system. Thus, we saved the temple from destruction. The next step is to strengthen the foundation. Later, we will look at the interior design. It is not restoration; we’ll paint the walls and mend the floor.

Minsk’s Church of Saint Roch: interesting facts